Erie High will graduate first engineering program seniors

Originally posted in the Times-Call>>


Katie Huonder considered becoming a doctor but didn't think she could deal with the "blood and guts" that goes with the job.

Enrolling in Erie High School's new engineering program as a sophomore, she found an alternative option, biomedical engineering.

"Instead of being a doctor, I figured I could design the tools," she said.

One of four students who will be the first Erie High engineering program graduates, she's headed to the Colorado School of Mines in the fall to major in mechanical engineering and minor in biomedical engineering.

"Erie's engineering program been a really great learning experience," she said. "It's prepared me really well. I'm looking forward to going to college because I can study what I want to do with a group of like-minded peers."

An estimated 2,000 St. Vrain Valley seniors are graduating in the class of 2018, most on May 26, and many are starting college or careers a step ahead.

All of St. Vrain Valley's comprehensive high schools offer a slate of honors classes, mainly advanced placement, that may qualify for college credit.

Then there are a slew of specialty classes and programs, from STEM programs to a leadership academy to vocational classes. The district also is in its second year of offering a P-TECH, or Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools, program at Longmont's Skyline High.

Erie High started its engineering and aerospace program three years ago. Of the four graduating seniors, two started as sophomores and two enrolled after they transferred to Erie High this school year.

The program includes a senior design class where students spend a year working on capstone projects.

For her project, Huonder is working with a team of 12 other Erie and Skyline engineering students who won a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program to design an affordable, portable emergency beacon system.

They plan to present their final product in June at EurekaFest at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"It's been a lot of learning through trial-and-error to get everything to run smoothly and a lot of collaboration," she said.

As part of the senior design class, students are required to participate in a 30-hour internship at a local business. Huonder's was at Longmont's Xilinx, where she tried some coding.

The students also recently showed off their final projects at the University of Colorado's Engineering Projects Expo.

Erie High senior Cristian Misola also signed up for the engineering program as a sophomore. His interest in the design of WWII tanks, plus strengths in math and science, led him to take a chance on the new program.

"I found out all the ups and downs and ins and outs of engineering," he said.

For his senior project, he built a cost-effective home security camera. Other favorite projects included building gliders, rockets and robots.

He would recommend the program to other students, even if they're not sure if they want to go into engineering as a career.

"It's good for anyone who's interested in design or interested in math and science," he said. "It's a good experience."

He's planning to enroll in Front Range Community College's engineering program in the fall.

Erie High's senior design class, which meets at Longmont's Innovation Center, is combined with Skyline High's senior design class.

Skyline's STEM — Science Technology Engineering and Math — program is graduating about 50 seniors this year, adding up to about 240 STEM graduates since 2013.

One of those is Lena Weisman, who started as a freshman and took classes on robotics and biomedical engineering.

"It provided the specialized education I was interested in," she said. "It opened me up to all the different kinds of engineering and taught me a lot of valuable skills."

She said she loved the hands-on nature of engineering, building everything from windmills to robots.

In her senior design class, her group started with research and brainstorming to develop a project, then moved on to building and testing prototypes.

Their goal was to find a way to keep bathroom mirrors from fogging — a common frustration for teens with limited time to wait for the mirror to clear in the morning after a shower.

They developed a tube placed at the bottom of a mirror with a heating component and fans to blow hot air on the mirror's surface, keeping it clear.

Weisman's experiences in the program led her to settle on civil engineering as her major when she attends Lehigh University in Pennsylvania in the fall. She's planning to add in global studies, and likely will specialize in structural engineering.

"I'm very excited to move on to college, to meet new people and have new opportunities," she said.